Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): I am mindful of your instruction that this is a narrow debate about referring the matter to the Standards and Privileges Committee, Mr Deputy Speaker, but it might help if I clarified one or two aspects regarding the two examinations of the matter that have been carried out by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
We first looked at the issue in 2007. It is important to distinguish between two different episodes, both of which potentially affect hon. Members. The first episode was the arrest and conviction of Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman, specifically for phone hacking. The second was Operation Motorman, carried out by the police, which identified a private investigator who had been employed by a large number of journalists from many different newspapers, usually to undertake what is called blagging rather than hacking.
While hacking is an offence under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, blagging is a breach of the Data Protection Act 1998. Both are criminal offences, but in the second case, there is a public interest defence. No journalists were ever prosecuted in the Motorman case, so we do not know whether a public interest defence might have been used. However, the sheer number of blags or attempts to seek information in breach of the 1998 Act led us to believe that what was happening was, in large part, fishing by journalists and did not involve the pursuit of specific public interest matters. We revisited the matter in July 2009, after the publication of a story in The Guardian providing new evidence that led us to question the evidence that we had received in the first inquiry that Clive Goodman was the only journalist who had any knowledge of, or involvement in, phone hacking at the News of the World.
As I have suggested, there is evidence from both inquiries that hon. Members were affected. Specifically in relation to the first episode, the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) was named in the indictment of Mr Mulcaire as one of those who had suffered from hacking. When it came to Motorman, there were literally thousands of names. We know, for instance, that Peter Kilfoyle was one of them, although he did not know that until it was subsequently uncovered. In both cases there was concern that the victims were not informed, either by the police in relation to Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire, or by the Information Commissioner in relation to Motorman.
As the House knows, the Select Committee took considerable evidence from a number of journalists-principally from the News of the World in relation to Clive Goodman, but from other newspapers too concerning Operation Motorman. At that time-it is important to remember that we are talking about events from some time ago-we found that there appeared to be a culture across Fleet street in which such practices were routine, and that law breaking was taking place in many news rooms. We were also assured that things had changed. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) was a little unfair to suggest that the Press Complaints Commission did nothing. I have been critical of the Press Complaints Commission in the past, but it certainly did do something: it made it absolutely plain that such practices were unacceptable and required editors to tighten their rules, and we received assurances that such practices had stopped.
We now know that there is one journalist under investigation by the News of the World potentially for hacking, but it was the News of the World who acted on that and then notified the Press Complaints Commission that it was doing so. I very much hope that the events that we are discussing today relate to some time ago and that such practices have ceased right across Fleet street.
I understand the frustration felt by hon. Members during our inquiry-indeed, I shared it. We did make use of some of the powers that the hon. Member for Rhondda referred to, particularly in obtaining documents that various witnesses were, at first, unwilling to provide. We certainly had some arguments over which witnesses would give evidence. For example, we were unable to get evidence from either Clive Goodman or Glenn Mulcaire-or, indeed from Mr Ross Hall, who was in Peru at the time, although I understand that he has now returned to this country.
I recognise that new evidence might well have emerged. Some of the information that has entered the public domain in the past few days certainly appears to contradict some of the evidence that we received. The Standards and Privileges Committee has slightly more powers available to it than the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, and I in no way oppose the motion. I agree with the hon. Member for Rhondda that this is an extremely serious matter, and it is not just about MPs. The illegal obtaining of information about any individual is to be deplored. I therefore strongly welcome the moves that have taken place to ensure that it does not continue.
I have one small concern, although I am not in any way accusing the hon. Member for Rhondda. This issue is mired in politics, and the Standards and Privileges Committee needs to be very careful to ensure that it is not used as a vehicle for political ends. I am sure that that will not be the case under its new Chairman, whom I congratulate on his election.